Photography without boundaries

In response to the remarkable number of unconventional photographs we regularly receive at the newspaper promoting everything from out-of-focus rock bands to underexposed potatoes, we recently decided to ask our readers to send us some of their worst photos.

We weren’t expecting much. After all, people can be a little touchy about their photographic faux pas. They tend to bury them under last year’s tax returns or mail them off to relatives they don’t particularly like.

But not our readers.

Vying for a free dinner at Vacaville’s Merchant & Main Grill and Bar as part of the newspaper’s “Photography Without Boundaries” contest, readers from throughout Solano County proudly mailed us their very worst photos.

Kevin Johnson of Vacaville sent us his picture of something named Walter in a Christmas tree. We can tell you that Walter appears to be one cute little fur ball. Other than that, we haven’t been able to determine exactly what Walter is.

Maxine Blake of Vacaville submitted a triple-exposed Christmas party while Vacaville’s Louise Stith sent in a 45-degree picture of someone navigating the interior of a streetcar in Zagreb, Croatia.

A favorite came from Kelly and Chris Wigley of Vacaville. At first glance, it appears to be two clowns fighting with a mule in a wheat field during the bombing of Baghdad.

According to the Wigleys, however, the photo actually shows “Medieval dinner show jousting.”

(Uh-huh. Pass the salad, pass the broad sword…)

Kathy Summ of Travis Air Force Base sent a collection of creatively double-exposed construction site photos along with some red-eyed severed heads from what appears to be a graduation ceremony.

Vacaville’s Cindy Woodbury submitted an out-of-focus photograph she’s been treasuring for nearly 40 years. It’s a photo of (we think) a motorcade bearing president John F. Kennedy through Oakland in 1962.

“If you squint real hard and use your imagination, you can darn near see JFK sitting in the back seat!” Woodbury wrote.

We had to agree with Woodbury – at least the part about squinting real hard and using our imaginations…

The prize-winning photograph (pictured below) came from our youngest contestant, 5-year-old Kendra Person of Vacaville.

According to her mom, Susan, the photographer was busily snapping pictures on her last day of kindergarten at Jean Callison Elementary School when she zeroed in on two friends. Like all the best photographers, Kendra put a little of herself into the picture. Unfortunately, it was her finger…

For her decidedly avant garde photo cropping technique, Kendra was unanimously chosen the best of the worst by our judges and awarded dinner for two at Merchant & Main.

Congratulations, Kendra. You’ve helped us redefine “Photography Without Boundaries.”

Originally published September 9, 2001

Take crummy photos, win swell prizes …

There’s something about the newspaper’s mailbox that attracts large quantities of unsolicited photographic weirdness.

It seems as if everybody out there with a camera has taken to heart the old maxim “One picture is worth a thousand words.”

Therefore, a dozen or so photographs – in or out of focus – ought to be worth at least a half page in The Reporter along with the undying admiration of the newspaper’s photo staff.

The great majority of the truly strange photographs that arrive on our doorstep seem to come from musical ensembles and regional theatrical groups.

The musicians – all of whom claim to be working with “a professional photographer” – usually submit an unfocused photo of four or five drunk guys leaning on each other in a dimly lit tavern. Sometimes they remember to include a battered guitar or soggy tambourine in the shot to give it that authentic rock ‘n’ roll flavor.

Skulls, unidentifiable auto parts and the occasional pit bull terrier also appear, although focus and lighting are frequently so fresh and creative that it’s impossible to tell the difference between the pit bull and the transmission from a ’72 Pontiac.

One of the most intriguing photos the newsroom ever received, however, came from a local church. Their informational packet contained the photograph of a russet potato accompanied by brief quotation from the Gospel of St. Luke – “The hungry he has satisfied with good things, the rich sent empty away…” – if memory serves me.

Over the years, we’ve begun referring to such free, unfettered and exuberant works as “Photography Without Boundaries.”

These photos are much the same as spicy fried pork rinds – we aren’t sure why we like them, but we want more. We’ve become so enamored of this free-spirited work that we’ve decided to launch a “Photography Without Boundaries” contest for readers.

Do you have a really goofy, unfocused, poorly-composed, badly-exposed photograph that really doesn’t have anything to do with anything? Did you snap a photo of your Uncle Henry rubbing his bald spot with a dead octopus? Do you have a picture of the rock band you used to belong to – the one with the lime green leisure suits and the inflatable palm trees? How about that photo of your nephew Pugsley with his foot stuck in the electric ice cream maker?

Send us your very worst photos and you may win dinner for two at Vacaville’s popular Merchant & Main Grill and Bar. Remember, the worse the photo, the better your chances of winning a big ol’ dinner for you and one of your admirers. Plus, we’ll reprint your winning photo right here.

Photos can be color or black and white, in focus or out of focus, anywhere from postage stamp to poster size (please, no videos and no wall murals).

Remember, this is a family newspaper, so try to use a little restraint in your subject matter, OK?

Mail your weirdest photos to: Brian Hamlin, The Reporter, 916 Cotting Lane, Vacaville, CA. 95688.

Deadline for entries is 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31. The winning photo – as judged by our team of photographic experts – will be published here on Sunday, Sept. 9.

(Employees of Merchant & Main, The Reporter and their families are not eligible.)

Originally published August 12, 2001